2018 BMW 5 Series Test Drive Review: The Best Just Got Better

Test Drive

Remains the benchmark midsize luxury sedan.

BMW introduced the all-new G30 BMW 5 Series at the end of 2016. Since then sales of the executive sedan, an ever-present model in the brand’s lineup for over 40 years, have taken a sharp upward trajectory. After a lackluster 2016, just over 40,000 units found homes in 2017, and 2018 promises to be an even stellar sales year. So what is it about the new model that makes it such an enticing proposition? Our initial impressions after a day behind the wheel was that BMW had done a fine job evolving the model with cutting-edge tech and lashings of luxury.

Earlier this month, we jetted off to the UK for a special Goodwood event, so made the most of our few days across the pond by getting better acquainted with a 2018 BMW 5 Series 540i xDrive. Wearing a classy shade of Sophisto Grey Xirallic paint (the closest I could find in the US is Bluestone Metallic), the first thing that grabs you about the new 5 Series is just how big it is. Yes, it’s sleeker and tauter than its predecessor, with a lower coupe roofline and higher shoulders, but it’s larger in every direction. The genius behind the G30 is that despite its bloated proportions, once behind the wheel, the car feels palpably more agile thanks in part to a new aluminum body that helps shave 137 pounds from its curb weight.

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Optional Adaptive Drive as part of the Dynamic Handling Package, the first of many must-have options, enhances agility even further. The drive down from London to Goodwood consists of an even blend of highway roads and country lanes, so we were able to utilize the selection of distinct driving modes. Body roll and cornering balance is superb, with adaptive dampers that offer sharper responses in its sportiest setting, and a sumptuous soft ride in Comfort. Sharp turns and sudden changes of direction define the final 20 miles of the drive down to The Duke of Richmond and Gordon’s Goodwood estate, yet the 5 Series remained a study in driving serenity.

A short caveat: this was only the case after the lane-keeping-assist system that applies steering torque with surprising vigor whenever it deemed the car had wandered out of bounds was switched firmly off. One of the very few complaints with the car is that some involvement has been lost from the steering. But there is so much to like about the 5er, you can almost forgive BMW for catering to the general public. Driving enthusiasts be damned. BMW’s slightly misleading nomenclature means 530i badges equate to 2.0-liter engines (not 3-liter lumps), 540i to 3.0-liter units (not 4.0-liters), while the daddy of the bunch, the M550i comes packing a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8.

In the UK, the majority of 5 Series sales will be the base 520d that utilizes a 187-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel unit. In the US, the 530i represents our base model, with a 248-hp 2.0-liter turbo-four doing the motivation. The sole oil-burner offered is the 540d xDrive powered by a 3.0-liter twin-turbo diesel unit delivering 261 hp. The equivalent six-cylinder gasoline unit boasts 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque in the 540i. All powertrains comes mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox that’s perfectly calibrated, sending power to the road just as it should. With BMW’s xDrive AWD system, 0-62 mph comes in at super-sedan besting 4.8 seconds.

Buyers will have to decide whether they need the extra performance at the expense of fewer miles per gallon and around $6,000 more on the sticker price. It’s certainly nice to have, injecting moments of fun into what is an exceptional compliant ride. But the more you inject, and during my few days with the car I tended to lead with a heavy foot, the more trips to the pump will be needed. BMW claims 32 mpg combined, but we didn’t manage even close to 20 mpg. The meaty M550i is probably a step too far. At that point, and once you’ve loaded up on options, you might as well go all out for the M5. The 530i will be fine for most, but the 540i is the sweet spot of the lineup.

The new 5 Series is expensive in other ways too. The tester we drove came loaded with options totaling over 20,000 GBP. The problem is, we appreciated having almost all of them, so just be aware that the ideal 5 Series comes at a not so ideal price. Jump on the BMW configurator and you’ll see how easy it is to move the $60,000 base price to well over $80,000. The UK packages the options differently, but the elements remain the same. The head-up display, for example, worked beautifully. Sharp, colorful but not distracting, it comes part of a $1,700 Driving Assistance package in the US you'll want to order. You’ll also want to consider going all out on the front seats.

As part of a Premium package in the UK and dubbed Luxury Seating in the US, 20-way power multi-contour seats offer support everywhere, ventilation keeps you warm or cool, and eight massage programs helps muscles from going stiff on long drives. It’s a level of driving comfort you really don’t need, but once sampled, is way too easy to get used to. In fact, thanks to a memory function, getting the driver’s chair primed was my first course of action after hitting the start button. Other options to consider include the phenomenal sounding Bowers & Wilkins Diamond surround sound system ($4,200) a ceramic finish for the controls ($650), and soft-close doors that form part of an Executive Tier that includes seven features.

You could easily live without the Display Key, which is almost the size of a small mobile phone. Remotely starting and driving the car makes for a great party piece, and may come in useful if you need to regularly park the car in very tight spaces. Otherwise, you can leave that option unticked. If you like the color and wheel combo, then in the US you’ll have to start with the M Sport Design that enables you to choose the 19-inch 664M double-spoke alloys, and that also includes an M rear spoiler and other aerodynamic styling elements. Lifelong 5 Series fans, and those thinking of ditching their Audi A6 or Mercedes E-Class for a taste of Bavaria, will find the new G30 to be a simply brilliant car.

Whether taking a macro view – responsive, high-revving inline-six engines, aggressive yet handsome design, cutting-edge driver aid technology, and sumptuous interior – or from a granular level, the ambient lighting, BMW’s new gesture control (upping the sound with a twirl of your finger), the piano black trim, there’s just so much to like about this car. Yes, you’re going to have to spend big, but the G30 5 Series will be a car you could happily live with for many years to come.

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